Dr. Francis Collins – The Language of God

August 31, 2007

Francis Collins is one of the world’s leading scientists. He has been the longtime head of the Human Genome Project, the groundbreaking international effort to map and sequence all of the human DNA and then determine its functions. The Project is widely considered the most significant scientific undertaking of our time. A devout religious believer, Dr. Collins brings a unique perspective on the compatibility of science with religion, which he explores in his recent book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Francis Collins details the potential benefits of recent advances in the field of genetics, explores the question of whether or not religious belief negatively impacts a scientist’s research, and talks about his journey from atheism to devout believer. He talks about the comforts that religion brings to a believer, and how the question of the origins of morality was central to his religious conversion. He also offers challenges to recent arguments against belief in God, to “fundamentalist atheism,” and to atheistic bias among the scientific community, while also offering “theistic evolution” as an alternative to both atheistic evolution and Intelligent Design creationism.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, August thirty, first 2007. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m D.J. Growthy Point of Inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, which is a think tank advancing science and reason and secular values in public affairs. Before we get to my conversation with Dr. Francis Collins, longtime head of the Human Genome Project. Here’s a word from point of inquiry sponsored this week, Free Inquiry magazine. 

The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think can do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year. Six Controversial Issues. Four 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six. Or visit us on the web at Secular Humanism, dawg. 

Can you be an excellent scientist and still believe in God? Our guests this week, Dr. Francis Collins, says yes. Dr. Francis Collins is one of the world’s leading geneticists and the longtime head of the Human Genome Project, which is the groundbreaking, multidisciplinary, multi institutional international effort to map and sequence all of the human DNA and then figure out how it all works. It’s widely considered to be the most significant scientific undertaking of our time. Prior to getting involved with the Human Genome Project, Dr. Collins research has helped discover the genetic causes of cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and other diseases. A devout religious believer, he brings a controversial and unique perspective on the intersection of science and religion. And he explores that in his recent book, The Language of God A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief welcomed a point of inquiry. Dr. Francis Collins. 

I’m happy to be on the show. 

Dr. Collins. As you know, the vast majority of the National Academy of Sciences, other scientific organizations, they’re atheist or skeptical of religion, to say the least. Let’s start our discussion with where you and your book you end with an exhortation to scientists. Let me ask you, is it your aim with the language of God to get scientists to be more religious or more respectful of religion? 

Oh, that might be one partial aim. I think the overall aim of the book was to try to put forward that one can be intellectually in a rigorous position and argue that science and faith are compatible. And one doesn’t hear that quite so much these days with the whole avalanche of atheist manifestos arguing that every thinking person must ultimately reach a conclusion of Athie ism. I think that goes well beyond the evidence that the naturalistic world in the world view can provide. And I try to argue in the book why that is so. So, yes, I would hope that some of the readers who are scientists might look at that argument and conclude that perhaps things have been portrayed in a fashion that’s a bit less logically defensible than it should be when you hear those arguments coming from Dawkins or Harris or Dennett or Hitchens, who are obviously making a very different case. 

I really want to get in to this topic a bit more about house scientists in general might be disrespectful to religion. I want to hear your take on that. But before we do it, just to lay the groundwork. Would you mind telling me about the Human Genome Project? 

You directed it for many years, and I still am in charge of genome research for our country here at the NIH. And it’s an incredibly exciting time scientifically. I had the privilege of leading the Human Genome Project over the course of some 10 years and in the process of that, encouraging some of the best and brightest scientists of our generation to join together as a team, a team that ultimately spanned six countries and more than 2000 scientists, and produced a highly accurate reading of the human DNA instruction book, placing that on the Internet for free for anybody who had good ideas about how to begin to use it to benefit humankind. That was an experiment which many people thought would fail. And ultimately its success was a testimony to the ingenuity, the creativity and the altruism of the people involved who basically gave up a decade of their lives to produce something which I think will be regarded by history as one of the most significant scientific undertakings of all time. But basically did so in a fashion where they recognized that this was a group effort and no single person was going to receive the credit for the accomplishment and the medical breakthroughs coming from the Human Genome Project. 

You’re saying they could change everything? About the way we understand ourselves, the way we confront illness and disease. 

And that is already happening. So in the short four years since the human genome sequence was finished, we have been hard at work trying to understand how spelling differences in the genome. Single letters out of some three billion in the human genome code might play a role in risk of disease, for diabetes, for cancer, for heart disease. And just in the last few months, there has been an absolute deluge of discoveries of that sort, pointing to genes that we never knew were involved in these common conditions and giving brand new ideas about prevention and treatment that have absolutely electrified biomedical research. That is not going to have an immediate consequence in terms of what happens when you go to your doctor this afternoon. But over the course of the next 10 to 20 years, medicine will genuinely undergo a revolution, both in terms of individualizing prevention strategies so that you don’t do the one size fits all thing to stay healthy. You do something that’s right for you. But also having as a result of all these discoveries, treatments for diseases when they do occur that are much more precise, much more targeted, much more rational than many of the empirical approaches we currently depend upon. 

We could do a whole show on the future of genetic research, and that would be fascinating. It’s kind of also up our alley. But you’re on the show today to talk about your book, The Language of God. A scientist presents evidence for belief. As such, you’re really kind of a unique guest on point of inquiry in that at once. You’re a world renowned scientists and you’re a devout religious believer. You obviously, like you said a minute ago, you believe that science, if it’s done right, does not conflict with religion, if it’s done right. Has it always been the case with you that you kind of saw science and religion being compatible? 

Not at all. I did not grow up in a religious home. Faith was not something mentioned around the dinner table or much of any time. And when I got to college and subsequently in graduate school, in physical chemistry study quantum mechanics, I became an atheist. I didn’t see any reason to depend on any truth outside of what could be determined by my second order differential equations. And then I had a change in my own life plan and decided I really wanted to apply scientific interest more in the direction of humanity. And I’d change directions and went to medical school and encountering death and dying at the bedside, which one does rather starkly as a medical student. I realized that some of these questions that had been a bit hypothetical, like what’s the meaning of life and is there a God weren’t so hypothetical anymore. And one particular occasion where a patient asked me what I believed. I realized that I’d never really look seriously at that question and never considered the evidence. I assumed there wasn’t any. I assumed that faith was something that people arrived at by childhood indoctrination or maybe some emotional experience. And I was shocked when I began to look at what people had written about this, that there was actually a very strong and compelling, rational case to be made for a belief in God. The case that I found to be actually much more compelling than the rational case for Athie ism. In fact, I had to conclude that Athie ism was the least rational of all choices because it assumed that the atheist knows so much as to be able to exclude within their own brand of knowledge the possibility of something outside of nature, namely God. And that seemed to be a pretty arrogant position, a position of some hubris for anybody to take. And it’s certainly not one that you could defend on rational grounds. 

I’d love to talk a little about the possible arrogance of Athie ism as you’re seeing it, but you just mentioned on the one hand that you were an atheist earlier on, but then almost in the same breath, you said you never really looked at the evidence until you were challenged at this bedside event. So which would you say that you were the kind of atheist that really went through this kind of grueling intellectual work of really examining religion? And then you found it wanting. Then you concluded that you were an atheist? Or was it just this kind of general non religiosity? In other words, you seemed to me, if you permit me saying this, that you were very ripe for being plucked up by religion at a later time. 

Yeah, perhaps so. And I would be willing to wager that a strong majority of scientists who consider themselves as atheists were more like I was than the type that has actually rigorously looked at the arguments and and drawn that conclusion. Athie ism and the scientific community is sort of the default. One gets the sense, as I did as a graduate student, that if you’re really intellectually rigorous, that’s where you’ll end up. And so you migrate in that direction perhaps without ever really having a deep conversation with anybody about it. It just seems like it’s the thing to do. 

Is it kind of taboo to be religious, would you say, in the scientific community? 

It certainly is an awkward thing to admit. To your colleagues, and especially as a young scientist, you have the sense that if you talk about such things, eyebrows will go up and people will wonder whether this is somebody that ought to be granted tenure and all those issues. Yeah, there’s a real taboo sense about talking about faith in scientific circles. There’s some good reasons for that. Faith tends to cause arguments that have nothing to do with the scientific atmosphere. And obviously the scientific method and the scientific world view, which proceeds to understand matters of how nature works, can’t be allowed to get distorted by religious perspective being implanted upon that particular approach. But at the same time, when you stand back from it, a purely naturalistic worldview is impoverished and certain important ways. It basically says some questions are just out of order. Like, what’s the meaning of life and why are we here? And is there a God? If you’re going to insist upon a fundamentalist brand of Athie ism, which is the brand that I think we hear from people like Dawkins and Harris, that basically you are saying those are not questions that are worth asking. And there’s something about that that doesn’t seem quite right. 

To the contrary, I find some of these, if you call them evangelical atheists, spending a great deal of time saying, okay, if there is no God, at least we’re here. So what do we do about the meaning of life? It seems like some atheists idea of the best time they could possibly conceive is getting together and talking about these deep philosophical questions, not unlike religious people, incidentally, talking about these almost existential questions. I want to get back to this episode. You recount in the book or the series of episodes where you talk about the comfort that you saw people getting from religion while you’re a med student in North Carolina, just because religion is comforting. And I concede that I found a great deal of comfort in in religion earlier on myself. But just because something’s comforting, it doesn’t follow that it’s true. 

I completely agree with that. And my first reaction upon hearing some of my patients talk about the comfort they derive from faith was, well, that’s great for them. I’m glad they’re reassured by it, but it’s all bunk. But it did get my attention that that was the point. Not that I was convinced simply by their degree of comfort that there had to be truth here, but that it seemed to be something worth looking into because I imagined myself in that position and I wasn’t sure how comforting I would be by my Athie ism. And if there was something there, wasn’t it worth trying to find out what it was? I expected I’d find no intellectual or rational basis for what they were talking about. And I could then, you know, go back to my Athie ism, strengthened in my conclusions that I was on the right track and that the truth lay within that particular worldview. That’s not what I found. 

So what was the turning point? You just sat down one day and started asking yourself why you believed what you believed and concluded that you were wrong. 

I actually don’t think I could have figured this out by myself. I’m not sure I’m that deep thinker. But I began to read what some of the great minds of the last many centuries have contemplated when it came to this most important question, perhaps, that we humans ever ask of ourselves or other people. Is there a God? Is there something outside of nature? And some of those thoughts caught me up short because they raised issues I’d never really seriously considered. Most prominently among those thinkers was the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis, the author of both really thoughtful philosophical books. Also, of course, a well regarded Renaissance literature scholar and the author of famous children’s stories that have turned into famous movies recently. Lewis, who had started in the same way that I had as an atheist and set out to try to prove his atheist was was correct because he was being challenged by his believing. Colleagues surprised himself as he surveyed a long series of centuries of thought that there were actually some pretty compelling arguments. And he outlines those in a little book called Mere Christianity, which I would challenge any atheists to look at seriously and see whether those arguments in that book can be easily refuted. I don’t think they can. Basically that plus a series of other observations actually coming out of nature, out of the universe led me to the sense that belief in God was more plausible than disbelief. Don’t get me wrong. You can’t prove God’s existence by these arguments from nature or from logic. But you can certainly prove that belief in God is more plausible than disbelief. That’s where I found myself. Ultimately, you have to then make a decision whether that is enough for you to take a leap and decide to put yourself in a position of becoming a believer. That is a decision nobody else can make for you. And it’s not something you’re going to be able to do with absolute proof. 

I love that you mentioned C.S. Lewis. I went through what you might call a C.S. Lewis phase myself. All my buddies at Bible College would moan or. Otherwise, every time I was spouting off again about C.S. Lewis, you mentioned in the language of God that one of his arguments especially rang true for you, and that’s when he was talking about morality and the fact that people have a moral sense. Well, he says that that, you know, suggests proves suggests that there’s a divine law giver who who’s writing morality to the fabric of the universe or into our hearts or something. Couldn’t we have a moral sense, though? Couldn’t our moral sense be explained in a persuasive way without an appeal to the supernatural? 

Of course, evolutionary biologists, socio biologists have attempted to do that. If you looked at the debate that I had with Richard Dawkins in Time magazine last fall, that was where much of the crux of the issue circled and with good reason. This is a profoundly important question. Certainly, one can argue that there are evolutionary forces that would cause an individual to behave in a certain way that would be considered generous to others. But those arguments tend to fall apart when you look at them very closely. Those would, of course, explain why you would be nice to your own family, because they share your genes. Remember, evolution cares about your genes. They don’t care about much else. And they care about the genes of the individual, not the genes of the group. That’s an important issue that I think is pretty well agreed upon by all the evolutionary biologists, including the atheists. So why then would we admire someone like an Oskar Schindler who risked his life to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust when he’s not even himself Jewish? Why would we admire a Mother Teresa who fails to pass on her DNA? Because she’s dedicated her life to the dead and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Evolution would look at that and say, this is scandalous. This is exactly the wrong way to behave. And yet we humans, when we look at that, we find that to be a stunning example of the noble kind of action that we all feel we should somehow try to achieve and usually don’t. I can’t see that the evolutionary arguments get used there. They might explain a little bit of nice behavior to your family. They might explain reciprocal altruism where you do something for somebody because you expect them to do something for you. But it’s all rather thin. Now, I don’t get me wrong. This is not an argument that proves God’s existence. It is certainly an argument, though, that I think should cause people to think. And let me go one step further, and this is a really important point. If you want to accept the argument that this knowledge of good and evil, this moral law is a pure evolutionary artifact, that it is basically then an illusion that there is no such thing as good and evil. Then why do the atheists insist that, you know, we should get over religion and try to be good to each other? Who cares about being good? If they’re right, we should all shrug off the whole idea and be just as darn selfish as we possibly can because there is no driving force behind this. We’ve all been hoodwinked by evolution into thinking we’re supposed to be good and we should rebell against. 

I’m certainly no evolutionary psychologist, but maybe one reason to be good is because we’re people and we care about people. Evolutionary psychology, you suggested, may talk a little bit about where our morality comes from. Some evolutionary psychologists suggest, in fact, that it’s much more explanatory. And even as it’s a nascent field, you know, the best is yet to come. Just wait and see. As the research unfolds. 

Well, we should watch this closely, but also be skeptical in this regard about is this really explaining the evidence or is this a bunch of just so story? 

So to talk more about your progression, you were a certain kind of atheist, maybe not a a thoroughgoing atheist, but you you know, you were non-religious, to say the least, and then you had this conversion. Now, not only do you believe in God, but actually you believe in a personal God who cares about you. Answers, prayers. Believe in a God who created the universe. Who’s in charge of everything and makes sure everything’s going to work out. That view of God, especially, has been under assault more these days than at any point in recent memory. And some would say it’s about time. You mentioned earlier about what some have, you know, labeled maybe labeled as the evangelical atheists, if being evangelicals a bad thing. Do you think that there’s anything wrong with it? If someone like a Richard Dawkins, eminent scientists, the public intellectual that he is, if he really believes that God’s a delusion and he has these persuasive arguments a lot of people are buying into. Is it wrong from to speak the truth as he sees it? Many religious folks seem to think that their views should be beyond critical examination, off limits. You were talking earlier about how some scientists seem to have this view about. Scientific claims. Do you agree with some other religious folks who say that people like Dawkins are out of bounds if they challenge views on religion? 

No, of course not. I think it’s healthy for us to have this discussion. We’re what we’re all interested in is the truth, isn’t it? Religion is irrelevant if there’s not truth behind it. I happen to believe that God truly exists. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be having this argument with you. But basically, I’m opposed to those who distort the argument in ways to try to score points. And I think that happens from the religious perspective when religious fundamentalists pound the table and call evolution evil and in fact, the evidence behind it is overwhelming. And I think people who are in the atheist camp, and I think Dawkins does commit this particular sin from time to time. I don’t think it’s helpful or honorable for them to distort what faith is all about. The faith that Dawkins describes in The God Delusion is something I don’t recognize, nor would I associate it with any of the mature believers that I know. It’s the old ruse of a debater to mischaracterize your opponent’s position and then dismantle it. But it doesn’t mean the true position was even touched at all. So I wish, frankly, that the current very polarized mudslinging between the extreme voices Dawkins on the one end and people like Ken Ham on the other could in fact be displaced a bit. We’ve had enough of this kind of argument filling our airwaves, filling our bookshelves. Most people don’t live at those extremes. Most people live somewhere in the middle and are seeking a possible harmony between these world views. I have found that and I’ve found it to be extremely intellectually and spiritually satisfying. And it seems rather sad that we hear so little about that possibility, especially when you look at young people who are trying to figure out what they believe and are being basically sold. The idea that you have to make a choice between science and faith. I think if you pick one or the other, you’ve impoverished yourself. And we shouldn’t be asking people to do that unless we really know what we’re talking about. 

I want to take it from the other direction. As much outrage as there’s been for the books of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, you mentioned Sam Harris as well. There’s also been a call for an equal amount of outrage against scientist believers like yourself. You know, how dare you as a scientist even say that you believe in God. You shouldn’t even bring it up. Sam Harris, in a recent issue of nature, wrote in a letter to the editor to decry their positive review of your book, arguing that instead, the language of God should have, in quotes, sparked a gasping outrage since he argued that your book was so very unscientific. The reasons you gave for believing in God were emotional, kind of philosophical arguments at times, but didn’t sound like they were based on scientific evidence. And you said earlier. Look, you’re not going to scientifically prove that God exists. He said that the journal Nature should have known that it was unscientific and not even given it the attention. Your least given it a bad review, given that you say there will never be scientific proof of God’s existence. 

What’s your reaction to Sam Harris’s outrage? 

I think it’s surprising that somebody who is devoted to the idea of having open discussion about whether faith is true or not would be so troubled by an entry onto that stage. Apparently, it’s an entry that is different than his own. Again, I think in the book I try to make it absolutely clear that science essentially has to remain silent on the real fundamental question of is there a God? There may be clues from nature that are more consistent with God’s existence than not. But it’s not really a scientific question at the bottom of it all. And therefore, science isn’t really going to help address the question. And yet it is a fundamental question of human existence. And if Nature is a journal which is about science, but is also about sort of the fundamental issues that are present in our lives and in our world, seems rather odd to argue that they should not also give a hearing to arguments that perhaps science and faith could coexist happily when you consider that that does seem to be on a lot of people’s minds. So, again, I think that’s a rather extreme reaction to an opportunity perhaps for something more constructive. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that the language of God can be purchased through our Web site. Point of inquiry, dawg. Dr. Collins, you just mentioned that belief in God, the claims about God’s existence. They aren’t scientific claims. Science can’t really get it that. But some scientists, in fact, argue that if God exists, you know, it changes everything about science, that saying God can impact the laws of nature, can change the rules at any given moment. That’s a scientific claim that can be tested. 

Well, I think basically, whether you’re a believer or nonbeliever, the evidence is that the rules of nature do not change, except perhaps in very exceptional circumstances that one would call miracles, which, of course, will be immediately rejected by an atheist. But we’ll be at least considered as potentially possible by a believer, although a believer like myself will be intensely skeptical about individual modern day examples that are promoted as representing such miracles. Basically, I don’t think being a believer or a nonbeliever affects one’s ability to do science. You do science by basically saying, I’m using these tools to understand how the natural world works. For a believer, however, you see that God is behind those laws and those discoveries that you have the privilege of making are also an opportunity to get a little glimpse into God’s mind. And that is, in fact, for me as a scientist who’s a believer in enriching experience that makes science even more fun than it would be if I was an atheist. 

You don’t think that spirit of science, that kind of attitude that you bring to bear in your scientific research, you don’t think that some people who are honest about it and that, you know, they’re not just sturdy little atheist trying to ruin people’s good times in their faith. They they honestly apply the same spirit of science to these religious claims. And it leads them to conclude that there just ain’t no good evidence for those religious claims. 

But again, by applying the scientific method to religious claims, you’re committing, I think, a logical fallacy. Arthur Eddington has a wonderful parable about this, about the scientists who decided he was going to investigate all of the fish in the deepest ranges of the ocean and used a three inch net to see what he could pull up and discovered all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures. And then, in the final words of the discussion of his paper in Nature, concluded to everyone’s surprise that there are no creatures in the deep ocean, smaller than three inches. Obviously, that’s ludicrous. But in a same way, if you’re applying the scientific net to try to catch God, you’ve got the wrong net. 

Not to belabor the point, but some maybe you’re right, they’re steeped in their biases of the scientific world view. But some would say that the net of science, because it’s looking at the cosmos nature and what they think is all there is that it’s the biggest net possible. 

Big, yes. But it’s not everything. Again, if you want to define it as everything, then you’ve committed a logical circular argument floor and you will come back where you started. But if you’re willing to allow as a first principle and then investigate it from the perspective of reason and evidence, whether there might be something outside of nature that therefore science is unable to discover, then who knows where it might take you. It took me to the point of becoming a believer, something I really didn’t expect. 

Switching gears, Dr Collins, I was struck reading your book and that is something of an evangelical religious believer. You not only accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, you flat out reject creation science, intelligent design. You reject all that completely. You call yourself a theistic evolutionist. So you use science to lead you to bind to the. Claims of evolutionary theory, but you have faith to believe that God’s behind all that, right? 

Yes. Although let’s be clear. And scientists sometimes well, we’ll be uncomfortable by this statement. There’s a certain element of faith in the practice of science. Isn’t there an element that assumes that nature is going to behave in predictable ways and that those waves can be understood using the tools of science and that even they can be described by simple mathematical laws in the case of physics and chemistry? So altogether, while faith is a fundamental part of religion, faith is also a part of science. They both have a component of faith, a component of reason. 

Yeah, but that that use of the word faith seems to me a different kind of faith than someone who believes a supernatural faith claim. I mean, if you’re talking strict to me in skepticism, you have to you know, I have to have a certain kind of faith that the sun will come out tomorrow morning or that Australia exists, even though I’ve never been there. But that is a different kind of faith than the faith in a supernatural claim. That is completely untestable, as you have put it. 

Yes, that’s certainly different. But is the faith that nature will behave in predictable ways, that there will be laws found ultimately that explain all of the ways in which matter and energy are connected? That is an element based upon some experience, to be sure, but not ultimately provable. I grant you, that’s a different kind of argument. And perhaps qualitatively, it shouldn’t be lumped together with the kind of faith that characterize belief in God. But I. I would not want people to basically conclude that science is based entirely upon deductive proof of every aspect of what we do. There’s a certain element behind here that’s actually not the case. 

Seems to me that there’s something more, I don’t know, something more honest or at least consistent about the Bible believer who takes it all literally on faith and says, I know that God exists. The Bible says it. The Bible says that God made creation in seven days. The universe is like 10000 years old. It seems more consistent with the Bible. At least the guy who believes all that you believe in the Bible is as an evangelical. You’ve accepted Jesus as your savior, but you’re much more open minded about these literalist interpretations of scripture which make for you, oddly, science and religion coexist in some kind of peace. 

You know, look, if the Bible, particularly Genesis one and two, was written as a scientific textbook with scientific evidence and scientific language, then I would be much more troubled about the idea that perhaps there’s some allegory going on here. But, gosh, go back to St. Augustine in 400 A.D., who is, to my view, the theologian who in the last how many centuries has looked most closely at the wording and tried to figure out what it means. Augustine had no reason to try to make this fit together with Darwinism. That wouldn’t come along for a very long time. And yet he concludes that the wording of Genesis one and two, the creation story was not intended as a literal description. It’s very poetic. The real intention here is to try to explain the nature of God and the nature of humankind. So the fact that I don’t find it necessary to absorb that as a literal story, I’m in very good company. And in fact, the literalists of today, which is a fairly recent arrival on the scene, are in fact in the minority in terms of thoughtful people who have tried to figure out what those words mean. So I would argue instead. My goodness, if God is the author of all of this, he can hardly be threatened by what science is teaching us about nature. And if God has given us the brains to be able to use science to discover the age of the universe and that evolution is true, why should we be so offended by that or feel that he has to be defended against that? And here’s where the creation of perspective seems really quite stunningly at odds with a belief in a true God. 

Do you think that scientists, whether the religious or not religious, should be more vocal, more activist, even in challenging this growing movement to teach I.D., teach intelligent design or creationism in American public schools? 

I certainly think that science class ought to be about science. And opening the door to religious perspectives in that setting is a big mistake. And I’m glad to see the Dover decision are ringingly endorsing the conclusion that intelligent design does not belong in the science curriculum. Intelligent design, by the way, which is a recent arrival on the scene, I think is headed for collapse in the not too distant future. It’s based upon a premise which is sort of a god of the gaps idea that evolution just wasn’t quite good enough to come up with some of the complex machines we find inside people’s cells. And basically, as we learn much more about cell biology and particularly about the human genome and other genomes, it’s pretty clear that that was a naive interpretation, that evolution is actually quite capable of such complex. Because it occurs in a stepwise fashion. I actually am quite heartbroken to see the way in which many churches have embraced intelligent design because they felt they had to have something to defend against evolutionary Athie ism. And yet they’ve attach themselves to a perspective that is headed for trouble. And in the process, I fear that the churches will be demoralized and faith will be made out to look foolish, all of which was totally unnecessary. 

I’d like to finish up by asking you a version of a question I’ve been asked a number of times in debates on God’s existence. Dr. Collins, can you conceive of yourself ever being persuaded that God does not exist, that for very human, very useful, even very explainable reasons you now believe in something that just isn’t there? Or do you know so certainly that God exists, that nothing could ever shake your faith? 

I certainly do not have that kind of unshakable faith. I admire people who do. I find doubt to be an element of faith, not the opposite of faith. I can imagine a circumstance, although not at all easily, where some evidence would come along, perhaps, for instance, incontrovertible evidence of the bones of Jesus Christ that would cause my faith to collapse. But I don’t anticipate discovering that. I hope I am open to looking in every nook and cranny to find it, because what I’m interested in is in the truth. 

Thank you very much for joining me on Point of Inquiry, Dr. Francis Collins. It’s been a fascinating conversation. Thank you. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. 

These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. One adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community who could have imagined that reality would need defenders. The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values by becoming a friend of the center today. Whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine, or a Center for Inquiry on campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. 

We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. To talk with others about today’s episode, go to our online discussion forums found at Center for Inquiry. Dot net views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Cook’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.